Incredible Uganda: Arrival

What an incredible setting, Uganda is a country seemingly and sporadically placed within a once-forest. A goat cries in the distance beyond the gate. A solemn reminder that I ate goat upon my arrival here. Arrival. Ramshackle homes and businesses line unpaved roads. Making our way to the compound I stare out the window into a sea of the unfamiliar. Buildings painted with advertisements of Higgies Diapers where Huggies are not sold, roaming animals and the western image of impoverished living were all things left unspoken in meetings and left for us to ponder. What an extraordinary experience it was to arrive. Exhaustion’s grip only tightened as I drew closer. With every hour the need to stay awake and alert while traversing three counties, among strangers and through the unfamiliar proved harder. The incredible thing is that arriving is the easy part. No one tells you that it is going to take a lot of time and careful planning. No one holds your hand. Nothing is for certain. No one tells you that a few days before departure the anticipation builds. Sleep became sporadic, a constant need to work out and eat well fell over me as I attempted to bring a sense of normalcy to my life. In the whirlwind that was a ‘year in the making of an epic journey’ I was also a full time student in college, working part time, president of a service organization and maintaining sorority commitments all with an attempt to work out and maintain a social life. The last two were infrequent at best. In all this chaos I never stopped to think or clearly respond to those on the outside asking all the right questions. The only thing that kept me from the gravity of what I was about to experience for a month was simply that – gravity. In the clouds physically and mentally the only thing I knew to be certain was that I had done it. Never let someone make you feel like you cannot accomplish something because it is too big for them to conceive. Try. Give it your all and roll with the punches while pursuing your dreams. They absolutely can come true.

Content and photograph by Alex Rager

Different Side of Skyline

Very few personal challenges lie within the confines of Skyline, a hiking area around my inland-empire neighborhood. Once one hikes the designated trails and discovers the little differences, little interest is left in this area. While debating what activity to embark on with one of my best friends, we decide to take a trail I had not yet fully explored. I do not have a name for this trail, but I definitely didn’t follow it nor adhere to the boundaries. We came to find that this path held the life of this area that has not been seen in years. The drought in Southern California has stripped this area of unique beauty and life. Deeper and deeper into this trail, bat shelters, tadpoles and interesting rock placement began an intrigue. Eventually we came on the recognized ‘end point’ of this trail and kept going. A small dam held back the water that allowed for a trickle to fuel the miniscule creek that sustained life. This area, once far enough in, and shaded by the trees does not transform itself into a place of beauty, so much as an enchanted space to understand. Since this first experience, I have returned after a much needed rain and the area was full of life and the sound of running water made me think that everything is going to be ok, and skyline will prevail.

Photograph and content by Alex Rager

San Onofre Adventure

Breathtaking. Never before had I experienced a beach quite like this. Just off the freeway is a parking lot campground full of people and not a care in the world. No one really seems to regulate the behavior here but there is an unspoken sense of respect. My friends and I decided it would be a fun experiment to camp here. After weeks of planning, a tent-building session, and hours spent packing my convertible Sebring we were off. Three friends, packed in a two-door car with loads of gear and Christmas music blaring created the quintessential environment for kicking off an exciting couple of days at the beach. Once we set up camp, we set out on our adventures along the trails and into the unfamiliar. Towering bluffs lined the coast and created unique canyons among the tides. We did a lot in our time here. Nights were spent together in the ocean watching the descending sun and days were spent exploring and appreciating the little things this territory had to share with us. We didn’t look at our phones outside of playing music, we gagged the hours by the signs of the sun and lived each day according to our free will and judgements. Learning about ourselves and each other through the weird things we experienced was all the entertainment we needed. The challenges with assimilating into society after days spent aimlessly and blissfully away hit us with full force. It doesn’t help that the first stop of this crazy train back home was a coastal Starbucks and my dreads at the time were woven with seaweed. None-the-less we returned home and I was more refreshed and happier than ever. You never know what you can gain from something so seemingly simple as a trip to the beach.

Photograph and content by Alex Rager

Pingree Park

Entertain the idea for a moment how you felt standing in the most gorgeous place you have experienced. On a hike through Pingree Park, Colorado I found my bliss. Official freshman orientation was over and while some were going home, I was setting off on the next adventure. Long group hikes, team building exercises, and solitary nature walks constituted the basic schedule of this trip. I didn’t enter this experience with preconceived notions of what to expect, I had never even heard of Pingree. The moment I entered the park, I became a child eager to look, touch and adventure my way through every crevice. I finally understood the excitement of my peers who had been here before. This flourishing green landscape, bordered by mountains and nourished by flowing veins allowed me to examine nature in its purest form. The abundance of visual stimulation became the catalyst for interpersonal thought that would later change my perspective. I never expected the strangers I camped with would become some of my favorite people, that Pingree would become my hidden gem, and those memories would be the ones to share.

Photograph and content by Alex Rager